Saint Michael’s teachers, scholars honored

Annual ceremony honors Saint Michael’s teachers, scholars

September 28, 2019
Mark Tarnacki
Staff Writer
Professor Brizard speaking

Directly above, Professor Alain Brizard of physics delivers the Convocation Address. Below are various other scenes of the ceremony, including award-winners, flag-bearing honor students before, and a reception afterward. (Photos by Ashley DeLeon ’23 and Mark Tarnacki)
At this year’s annual Academic Convocation — a September tradition established in 1986 to honor Saint Michael’s College scholars and scholarship — more than 100 faculty, staff, students and College leaders

At this year’s annual Academic Convocation — a September tradition established in 1986 to honor Saint Michael’s College scholars and scholarship — more than 100 faculty, staff, students and College leaders came together in the McCarthy Arts Center Recital Hall mid-afternoon on Friday, Sept. 27, to:

  • Present three major annual faculty awards: for service; for scholarship & artistic achievement; and for teaching.
  • Hear a keynote message from last year’s scholarship award winner, Alain Brizard of the physics faculty, about the rare “gift of dreams” that working at a small liberal arts college presents for, as his introducer noted, an internationally prominent physicist at the cutting edge of important work in theoretical plasma physics and nuclear fusion.
  • Hear Trustees Chair Michael Cunniff speak of the trustees’ keen awareness and appreciation of faculty work “that begins early and ends late, which makes our students’ experiences rich and full and prepares them to lead good and purposeful lives after graduation. …We recognize the effort required of the whole community to adjust to necessary constraints while energetically pursing new opportunities and building new programs. The College’s future, he said, rests on “the three pillars of academic life we celebrate today – teaching, scholarship and service.”
  • Enjoy inspiring student remarks from Lillian Denslow ‘22, after students representing the academic honor societies on campus processed in carrying the flags of their respective groups.
  • Formally recognize many distinguished retiring longtime faculty, while welcoming new faces and acknowledging those granted tenure or promoted to full professor.

The main event of this, as previous, Academic Convocation was the presentation of the three always highly anticipated major faculty awards, which Master of Ceremonies, VPAA and Dean Jeffrey Trumbower, said were chosen by the Faculty Council based on nominations from across the College. The winners were (listed with name of award presenter and some words from each citation):

Dean Trumbower speakingNorbert A. Kuntz Service Award winnerKatherine Kirby, philosophy/global studies (presenter Melissa VanderKaay Tomasulo: “[She joined the College} in 2006 as a professor of Philosophy and Global Studies. She is currently Director of the Global Studies Program. From her first days at the College, Katie has been an advocate of service – and community engaged learning. This has included her participation in the Project Management Committee for the Vermont Ibutwa Initiative (a nonprofit that helps women victims of rape in the Congo). Most currently, Katie has been at the forefront of the Diversity and Inclusivity initiatives on campus. She was a founding member of the Diversity Working Group. She has been a continuous part of the College Diversity and Equity Council. She is a Professor Kirby recognized for servicelong-standing member of the MLK Week Programming Committee. She is a member of the Engaging Diverse Identities Committee that implemented the new Diversity and Inclusivity requirement. At the same time, Katie serves as a role model in her one-on-one work with students and in her leadership on study-abroad trips to Guyana and South Africa. It is therefore with great appreciation that the Faculty congratulates Katie for her outstanding service to the College.”

Scholarship and Artistic Achievement Award Winner: Adrie Kusserow, anthropology (presenter Alain Brizard, physics): “Adrie Kusserow’s published work has never fit neatly into traditional categories of academic scholarship. It crosses boundaries of discipline and genre in much the same way that she herself has crossed boundaries. Her first book comes closest to fitting “traditional” scholarship. In American Individualisms, Kusserow helps educators and policymakers make sense of the yawning cultural chasm that separates schools and teachers from working class and immigrant children and their parents … Adrie’s scholarship in recent years has taken a different path [and her] work has straddled the worlds of art and academy. As a well-recognized poet and an anthropologist, Adrie has challenged the notion on the one hand that anthropology should simply ‘describe’ or ‘explain’ human culture, and on the other that poetry should always be ‘uplifting.’ Her innovative approach to writing ‘ethnographic poetry’ has garnered international attention, attracting awards and fellowships that allowed her to teach the practice of ethnographic poetry writing to students on the dry plains of South Sudan as well as the lush hillsides of Middlebury’s Bread Loaf campus – and of course to our own lucky students. Not surprisingly, her poems themselves cross boundaries on many levels. Professor Adrie KusserowThey reflect the struggle and the beauty of living as an anthropologist/teacher/mother/daughter/wife whose work (no less than her heart) take her on regular voyages across several oceans. In her third book, an award-winning collection of poems called Refuge, [she] reminds us how blessed sanctuary is. How fitting, then, that Saint Michael’s College, a college that has been, from its earliest days, a refuge – a sanctuary – to persons from around the globe, should be recognizing at this hour, the formidable talents and passion of a scholar/poet/teacher who has so consistently and tirelessly urged us – moved us – toward living up to our mission of welcoming the outsider.”

Joanne Rathgeb Teaching Award WinnerValerie Bang-Jensen, education (presenter Joan Wry, English: “Valerie Bang-Jensen is a talented and creative teacher with a nuanced, mature, and rigorous pedagogy.  At the core of her success is that she is reflective, contemplative, and embraces complexity.  This is evident in the way she approaches and structures her courses.  For example, in one course she explores how gardens are used as social fulcrums and are manifestations of culture and purpose that are constrained by biology. Her thorough and complete examination of a topic that initially appears superficial is transformational for her students. It is one thing to tell a class that the world is a complex place; it is another to have them Professor BangJansenexperience, discuss, read, and write about the myriad permutations that exist for something that appears simple, such as a garden.  Simply put, Valerie is excellent at leading students away from cursory and superficial thinking to a deeper exploration of topics. This approach is inherently interdisciplinary and it is no accident that Valerie has many collaborators on campus and in the community.  Valerie has filled the same role for many of her colleagues as she has for her students.  Namely, she is a role model, a moral compass, and has helped many of us become better teachers and scholars.”

The Gift of Dreams

In his Convocation Address near the ceremony’s end, last year’s scholarship award winner Alain Brizard (photo top of story, right) began by first relating three events that have taken place since he arrived at St. Mike’s in 2000 that have stayed with him for different reasons: first, he recounted giving a paper at a major physics symposium in Germany where speakers were listed by home cities — and there was Colchester right alongside Paris, Tokyo, New York and other major cities, as if on equal footing, which bemused him; in 2006, he, wrote a review paper while preparing for tenure that has become a definitive document in field of gyro-kinetic theory, and he said that large an undertaking while under tenure review was only possible with shepherding from his retired colleague Josh Van Houten, who present at the ceremony; lastly of those memorable incidents, he was struck, when elected a prestigious fellow of the American Physical Society in 2011 how difficult an honor it was to receive from a physicist not at a major research university, which made him appreciate even more his rare “gift” experiences at Saint Michael’s that were the focus of his short remarks titled “The Gift of Dreams.” Brizard said 20 percent of the papers he has written have been on topics he could not have written if at another college because they were simply written “as a result of interaction with students, asking them what are interests and we come up with projects.” Just the past week, he said, he and a physics honor student in the audience of flag-bearers were pondering fractional derivative of the cosine function together, discovering an interesting property; through another student he once was able to look at quantum computing – “I’ve been quite successful at drawing projects out of thin air and walking a few days or weeks in almost dream like state alongside students wondering about these implications and applications – and this is only because I’m here that I can do this”

Professor Ellis playing guitarA full program

The 3:30 p.m. ceremony in the McCarthy Arts Center Recital Hall opened with beautiful music Bill Ellis of the Fine Arts/Music faculty, an accomplished guitarist who sat on stage and played pleasant songs from the folk genre that is his specialty, from about 15 minutes prior to the opening procession, and during it including for the opening procession.

After the honor students processed in with their colorful flags and took seats in front rows before the stage along with faculty stage participants in academic regalia, Rev. David Theroux, SSE ’70, director of the Edmundite Center for Faith and Culture, gave an invocation drawing from a letter of St. Paul to the Thessalonians: “So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.” .He prayed, “Help us be for others the support they need and good companions to each other as we travel this day.”

After Trustees Chair Cunniff  (second from left in photo at right) in his brief and optimistic remarks praised and thanked faculty for the past year’s many accomplishments and their support in a challenging time, current student Lillian Denslow ’22 (far right in photo at right), a history and international relations major from Washington, NH and the Student Association Secretary of Academics, told of how she ended up at Saint Michael’s after visiting on a whim with her dad and falling in love with campus in about 15 minutes. “What I was not prepared for … was how kind an incredibly inspiring the faculty I encountered here would be.” She made particular mention of Professor Mahmoud Arani from her first-year Honors Peace and Justice Seminar, in which faculty and staff at academic convocationthought-provoking and challenging discussions expanded her views and ignited new interests for her, “and I loved every minute of it.” Every student she encountered when looking at the College, she said, had a story of a professor who “went out of their way to help them” or engage and reach out to students with humor. She thanked recent and current professors for helping her with Spanish skills, getting through macroeconomics, gaining a love of Cuban history, and being challenged to grow intellectually and get excited about future plans in the history field.

President Lorraine Sterritt then had brief remarks, also thanking those present. “I have great faith in this institution because of the many wonderful, intelligent and devoted people who work here. I am grateful for the spirit of collaboration that infused all we do,” she said.

Turning to news of faculty, the day’s Master of Ceremonies, Master of Ceremonies Trumbower had new faculty stand in the audience to be acknowledged with applause. He also announced the promotion of Ari Kirshenbaum {psychology James Nagle (Education), Kimberly Sultze (Media Studies, Journalism and Digital Arts), and Joan Wry (English) to full professor, and the awarding of tenure to Allison Kuklok (philosophy) and Ben White (Applied Linguistics).

The next part of the program honored new emeritus professors as a result of their retirements in the past year. Here are this year’s retirees, with the name of the presenters who read each honorary citation, and some words from each:

Vince Bolduc (Sociology, presenter, Robert Brenneman): “A promoter of community-based learning and undergraduate research before either terms were hip, he developed dozens of research projects that incorporated students in ways that helped them learn both the craft and the joy of careful, well-timed social reach…A tireless supporter of the virtues of a true liberal arts education, Vince is best known among students for his beloved capstone course “Work, Education and Vocation.’


John Hughes (Political Science, presenter Shefali Misra): “John Hughes’ unmatched eye for humor and irony kept his colleagues and students in slits and sane for 42 years. Touchingly modest and unassuming beyond belief in our shamelessly selfie-promoting age, John let only a lucky few witness first-hand his talent for photography and encyclopedic knowledge of jazz … He just lacked the room to hide away the countless lawyers, state and local public servants and other political science graduates who got their grounding in American government, the American Constitution and the judicial system from him.”

Zsu Kadas (Mathematics, presenter Lloyd Simons): “No one has played a larger role in shaping the …Department of Mathematics and Statistics. …during 10 years as chair she guided a major restructuring of our curriculum which remains substantially in place today… served with distinction on important committees; and her gifts of eloquence, organization and grace were apparent when she served as Moderator of the Faculty Assembly. Professor KadasThe salient attribute of Zsu’s professional life has always been her devotion to students…a passionate and innovative teacher and careful adviser…pushing students to excel and making sure their accomplishments were noticed and rewarded.”

John Kenney (Religious Studies, presenter Jeff Trumbower): “Since his arrival as Dean of the College in 1995, John Kenney has left an indelible impression on the College … During his ten year tenure as Dean, John was instrumental in increasing the academic prestige of the institution by promoting high standards of scholarship for Saint Michael’s faculty.  John moved to the Department of Religious Studies, where he has been the model scholar-teacher. A world renowned scholar, John has been prolific in his production of books and articles with important contributions to the latest scholarship on Augustine and the intersection of Christianity and ancient pagan philosophical thought ….John has mentored many students who have gone on to study at top graduate programs and to pursue careers in the field of religious studies.”

students carrying flagsJennifer Paone-Vogt (Chemistry, presenter David Heroux): “Jenn Paone-Vogt joined the Saint Michael’s College Department of Chemistry in 2001 after working for several years at IBM as a manager.  Since then, Jenn has played an integral role and has had meaningful connections with faculty, and especially students, within the Department. As the Department’s first lab coordinator, she has been instrumental in all facets of organizing and managing our laboratories and countless student workers. Additionally, she brought tremendous enthusiasm and expertise to teaching general chemistry laboratories. To many Saint Michael’s students she was known affectionately as Mom and a generation of students came to her for advice and a sympathetic ear on so many subjects. In many ways Jenn has been the heart and soul of the Chemistry Department.”

Fr. Michael Carter, S.S.E. ’12 gave the benediction before the gathering retired to a Sodexo-catered reception in the Teaching Garden: “Do not let the learning and conversations of this gathering die, but instead, may they continue to ruminate within us and bear fruit in our work throughout the weeks ahead, until we find ourselves together again.”Reception in the teaching gardens

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